Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tourist attractions in Normandy

Normandy regional information and tourist attractions

Map of Normandy   Normandy is one of the great historic regions of France; in the Middle Ages, Normandy was a great dukedom which, like Burgundy, rivalled in power and prestige with the kingdom of France. Indeed, the dukes of Normandy managed to achieve the same status as the kings of France, to whom they owed alliegance - but that was by extending their domains beyond the Channel, when William of Normandy managed to  acquire the title and status of King ...... of England, where he was of course hailed as William the Conqueror.
    With their historic links and their proximity, it is hardly surprising that the Normandy area has much in common with the south of England; the rolling countryside is not too different - fields and meadows bordered by hedges, even bluebell woods. Furthermore, the historic and vernacular styles of architecture are not too different either. 
    Today, the area that was once the dukedom of Normandy is divided into two administrative regions - Upper Normandy (Haute Normandie), capital Rouen, with its two departments, Eure (27) and Seine Maritime (76), and Lower Normandy, (Basse Normandie) capital Caen, comprising the departments of Calvados (14),Manche (50), and Orne(61). There are plenty of people who would like to see the two regions reunited - which would make historic sense, and leave a reunited Normandy region still within the norms of French regions, both in size and in population. This is liable to occur in the not too distant future when the number of regions in metropolitan France is reduced fro the current 22 to perhaps 15.
    To the south east, the Normandy area borders on the Ile de France, the Paris region, and towns and villages in this area have developed due to their proximity to the capital. Both Caen and Rouen are sufficiently close to Paris to benefit from the economic vigour of the Paris region, which is the most propserous in France, and from their position between two major hubs of international communications - Paris for air travel (parts of south east Normandy are less than 100 km from Charles de Gaulle airport), and the Normandy port of Le Havre, France's most important international shipping port.
    Le Havre, Caen and Rouen are the three main cities in this region. There are four smaller cities - or large towns, these being Evreux, in the Eure,  Cherbourg - still an active seaport, though less than in its heyday when it was France's gateway to America  - Dieppe, a minor seaport, and Alençon, capital of the Orne.
    Outside the towns and cities, Normandy is a prosperous agricultural area, specialising in dairy products, fruit (notably apples) and mixed farming. The most famous regional products are the cheese Camembert, and two drinks, Cider and the spirit distilled from it, Calvados. Normandy is also famous for its racehorses, and the region has many top breeding stables.

Getting to Normandy :

By train from Paris Gare Saint Lazare, 
Direct access by ferry from the UK, to Cherbourg, Caen (Ouistreham), Le Havre or Dieppe. 
By air:  access by plane to Paris or (for western Normandy) to Rennes.

Main tourist attractions in Normandy

  • Giverny: (near Vernon, 27) Visit the home of the greatest Impressionist, Claude Monet, and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism - formerly the Museum of American art.
    There are more works by the major Impressionists in the museums at Rouen and Le Havre (see below).
  • Caen (14), a large part of which was destroyed in the Second World War, has a Memorial museum of the Normandy Landings and the Liberation
  • The Normandy Beaches (14) - the site of the D-Day Landings in World War 2 - Omaha Beach, Juno Beach, Utah Beach and the others. The  landings are commemorated in monuments, museums and the war graves of the thousands who gave their lives.  Normandy beach Coach tours depart from Bayeux.
  • Bayeux (14),  attractive old Norman town where the historic Bayeux tapestry was made, and is still preserved, 900 years after it was made. The museum is open 7/7. Departure point of coach tours of the Normandy beaches.
  • Falaise (14) - impressive Mediaeval fortress, birthplace of William the Conqueror.
  • The seaside resorts  (14) of lower Normandy, Honfleur, Deauville, Cabourg, etc. - genteel resorts that flourished in the ninetenth century, as the closest to Paris.
  • Honfleur St Catherines church, from the 15th century, is the largest historic wooden church in France.
  • Rouen (76), with its quays on the river Seine, its picturesque historic centre, with half-timbered houses, an ancient clock, and a magnificent gothic cathedral, one of the finest in France. The Rouen Fine Arts museum - musée des beaux arts - has a good but small collection of Impressionists, plus a broad collection of old masters from 15th century to the 20th century, including Rubens, Velasquez, Poussin and many more. There is also the Joan of Arc museum .
  • Le Havre  (76)  -In the 1950's, the old town, destroyed in the war, was rebuilt in concrete by architect Auguste Perret, to the wishes of the Communist city council. This example of postwar urban planning is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Le Havre: (76) Musée Malraux : one of the best museums outside Paris for impressionism & fauvism. Large collection of 19th & 20th century masters including Monet, Renoir, Boudin, Marquet, Pissaro and many others
  • The White Cliffs of Etretat (76) - the most famous cliffs in France. 
  • Pays d'Auge (14, 61) - the archetypal Norman countryside, with its small villages and traditional half-timbered cottages.
  • La Suisse Normande (14, 61) - the highest hills in Normandy, around 1000 ft., loved by hikers and ramblers - though they are a long way from being mountains.
  • Le Mont Saint Michel, (50)  the world famous mediaeval abbey built on a rock in the bay - a UNESCO world heritage site. One of France's most visited historic monuments.
  • Le Cotentin: (50) countryside, cliffs and sandy beaches, on this granite  promontory jutting out into the English Channel. 
  • Le Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg: (50) Devoted to underwater exploration, the museum includes a visit of the Redoutable, the biggest visitable sub in the world, plus the deepest aquarium in Europe.
Cliffs of Etretat
The cliffs at Etretat - 

Harbour at Honfleur
The harbour at Honfleur - 

Quay at Honfleur
Johan Barthold Jongkind :  Honfleur 1866.
André Malraux museum - le Havre

Omaha beach memorial
Memorial on Omaha Beach